Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association yesterday began its first-ever training for mid-level managers, often to take the blame for labour unrest and industrial disasters.
About 100 factory managers comprising officials from compliance, human resources and administration departments took part in the daylong training programme at the BGMEA headquarters in Karwan Bazar.
Ministers, bureaucrats and business leaders welcomed the move, saying the initiative would help narrow the gap between workers and factories, increase productivity and cut down the frequency of unrest in the sector.
“Owners do not always stay at the factories. As a result, the mid-level managers run the factory. So, they should know about the labour laws and the rights of workers properly,” said Mujibul Haque Chunnu, state minister for labour and employment.
He urged the factory owners to directly engage with workers to know about their concerns and demands. “This will deepen trust and help cut unrest further.”
Chunnu said factory owners are afraid of trade unions as they believe the leaders of the unions would jeopardise the smooth flow of production.
The state minister also said 90 percent of the country's garment factories have already implemented the new minimum wage.
Labour Secretary Mikail Shipar admitted that he has always blamed the mid-level management for the unrest in the sector, as they lack the finesse to deal with workers, who hail from rural areas.
He went on to give an example of the time when the entire Ashulia industrial belt came to a standstill due to the slapping of a worker by a factory manager.
“The factory managers are not properly trained. They have to strike a delicate balance between appeasing the owners and the largely unskilled workers.”
Shipar urged the factory managers to understand the labour laws and the sentiments of the workers properly.
The BGMEA will provide training to at least four mid-level managers from each of its 3,200 active garment factories.
"Our target is to train 14,000 factory managers,” said BGMEA President Atiqul Islam.
He urged the government to include government's factory inspectors so they also understand the issue.
Meanwhile, the garment owners yesterday urged the retailers not to pull out work orders from factories housed in shared buildings as they are gradually shifting the units to purpose-made buildings.
After the Rana Plaza building collapse, retailers pulled out orders worth $110 million from different factories, according to the BGMEA president.
“The retailers conducted business with factory owners in shared buildings over the last 40 years, but after the Rana Plaza collapse they started pulling out orders from such factories. It is not right,” Islam said at a press conference to announce the itinerary to mark the first anniversary of the tragic event.
Garment makers sew clothing items in three types of buildings—converted, shared and purpose-made ones.
At present, 60 percent of the factories are located in purpose-made buildings and 40 percent in shared and converted buildings, where a total of 15 lakh workers are employed, Islam said.
“So, if the retailers pull out orders from such factories a lot of workers will lose their jobs—it is inhumane.”
Regarding the compensation package, Islam said the garment sector's apex trade body has so far donated Tk 14.50crore to victims in different times.
So far, a total of Tk 22.13 crore including the BGMEA's contribution has been disbursed to the victims of Rana Plaza collapse from the prime minister's fund.
Islam also demanded duty-free import of fire and building safety equipment and pre-fabricated building materials for construction of safe structures.
“Our factories are safe as the inspection agencies found only 13 as risky out of the 700 they inspected.”